‘Citizenfour’ Director Laura Poitras Sues Federal Government Over Airport Screening Detainments

'Citizenfour' Director Laura Poitras Sues Over
Michael Friberg for Variety

Laura Poitras, who won an Oscar this year for her documentary “Citizenfour,” filed a suit against the Department of Justice and other security agencies on Monday seeking records documenting dozens of incidents at airports in which she has been questioned and searched.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, claims that during her travel from 2006 to 2012 for work on her documentary films, she was detained every time she entered the country. After being targeted by security agents, she says, she filed Freedom of Information Act requests naming or relating to her, but she has received either scant response or her requests have been ignored.

Other named defendants in the suit include the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the U.S. border to bypass the rule of law,” Poitras said in a statement released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is representing her in the FOIA lawsuit. “This simply should not be tolerated in a democracy.”

She also said that she was filing suit “in support of the countless other less high-profile people who also have been subjected to years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders.”

Poitras said that she has been told by airport security agents that she had a criminal record, even though she does not, and that her name appeared on a national security threat database. No charges have ever been brought against her.

As an example, her lawsuit points out, “Beginning in mid-2011, when plaintiff began work on a documentary about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, on her trips from Europe to the United States, plaintiff started being questioned by U.S. authorities in Europe before being issued a boarding pass to return to the United States, in addition to being detained and searched in the Unites States upon her arrival.”

Poitras said that she has had her laptop, camera, mobile phone, and reporter notebooks seized, and she was once threatened with being handcuffed for taking notes during her detention on the grounds that her pen could be used as a weapon.

She said that the detentions stopped when journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote an article about her experiences.

Before “Citizenfour,” Poitras directed “My Country, My Country,” which focused on an Iraqi doctor and political candidate who was a critic of the U.S. occupation, and “The Oath,” about Guantanamo Bay prison and the interrogation of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard.